It’s time pay inequality became a priority

Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, asks: Should we give equal priority to income inequality and tackle the pay of people at the top, in the belief that reducing the income gap will lead to economic, social and environmental justice? And can we find we right policies to achieve this?

Darren Johnson AM represents the Green Party in the London Assembly

Most economic analysis on Left Foot Forward focuses on our traditional concern with the poor and on the public services that help them. We tackle poverty by promoting the London Living Wage and building social housing, health inequality by improving the NHS and reducing deadly air pollution, and so on.

But should we give equal priority to income inequality and tackle the pay of people at the top, in the belief that reducing the income gap will lead to economic, social and environmental justice? And can we find we right policies to achieve this?

I am hosting a debate tonight to grapple with those questions in City Hall, working on behalf of a city with the starkest inequality of any region in the UK.

I represent Londoners earning the minimum wage who can’t make ends meet in London, stuck a full seven thousand pounds below the “low wage threshold” that is usually defined as two thirds of the median wage. The intense concentration of wealth has even left young people on incomes that make them better off than 88 per cent of the UK population eligible for “affordable housing”, because they might struggle to buy market housing.

Our comfort zone is to get more workers onto the London Living Wage, which has put millions into the pockets of low paid workers, and to build more housing in the hope that supply might get closer to demand.

But adherents to The Spirit Level argument suggest we need to think more about the people at the top of the income scale, because a smaller gap between the bottom and the top will lead to a healthier and happier city with less crime, better education results and so on.

Even in a society with excellent public services and a decent quality of life for all, a huge gulf between the bottom and the top would cause the society to suffer from a range of problems.

That income gap has grown in the past few decades, particularly in the 1980s. In 1918 the richest 1% earned 19% of all income; by 1980 that had fallen to only 6% and 4% after taxes, while living standards improved markedly; but by 2005 this had risen back to 16%.

What can we do to tackle excessively high pay? As a regional politician with relatively few powers, the Mayor of London cannot introduce progressive taxation aimed at pulling down the income of top earners; he cannot reform company structures or require public disclosure of pay. Nor can our local councillors.

When I proposed a motion to introduce fair pay ratios into the Greater London Authority group, I hoped this would help us rein in the massive pay awards given to top staff in Transport for London and Crossrail; when I have pressed him the Mayor has shown little enthusiasm for implementing this, despite his support for the principle.

But would I be better spending my time scrutinising the pay of GLA staff at the bottom of the pay scale, employment brokerage schemes for the unemployed and action to insulate fuel-poor homes? Should the Spirit Level argument really change our priorities?

I think it should, and I’m looking forward to the debate in the hope that we can identify policies clearly based on evidence, not envy.

23 Responses to “It’s time pay inequality became a priority”

  1. Stephen Lintott

    RT @leftfootfwd: It's time pay inequality became a priority: //bit.ly/ey6uWL writes @DarrenJohnsonAM

  2. downinjamaica

    RT @leftfootfwd: It's time pay inequality became a priority: //bit.ly/ey6uWL writes @DarrenJohnsonAM

  3. Tom Chance (work)

    RT @leftfootfwd: It's time pay inequality became a priority: //bit.ly/ey6uWL writes @DarrenJohnsonAM

  4. reded

    100% tax on any earnings greater than 10x minumum wage.

  5. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: It's time pay inequality became a priority: //bit.ly/ey6uWL writes @DarrenJohnsonAM

  6. Tim Blackwell

    RT @leftfootfwd: It's time pay inequality became a priority: //bit.ly/ey6uWL writes @DarrenJohnsonAM

  7. Tom Chance

    RT @leftfootfwd: It's time pay inequality became a priority: //bit.ly/ey6uWL writes @DarrenJohnsonAM

  8. Darren Johnson

    My article "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" @leftfootforward – seminar at City Hall tonight, all welcome //bit.ly/gasaP2

  9. MayorWatch

    RT @DarrenJohnsonAM My article "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" – seminar at City Hall tonight, all welcome //bit.ly/gasaP2

  10. The Green Party

    An article in @leftfootfwd by @DarrenJohnsonAM – "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" – //bit.ly/h0TMXp

  11. Aaron Mo

    RT @TheGreenParty: An article in @leftfootfwd by @DarrenJohnsonAM – "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" – //bit.ly/h0TMXp

  12. Christopher Phillips

    RT @TheGreenParty: An article in @leftfootfwd by @DarrenJohnsonAM – "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" – //bit.ly/h0TMXp

  13. Oxford Kevin

    RT @TheGreenParty: An article in @leftfootfwd by @DarrenJohnsonAM – "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" – //bit.ly/h0TMXp

  14. lee

    it’s time for the state to stop making low wages possible by subsidising them through the benefits system. if someone is in full time employment then they have to be able to live on what they are paid – the minimum wage is clearly deeply indadequate, and it’s preposterous that we levy income tax on people who earn less than a living wage (though those evil lib-dems are doing something about that, not that anyone gives them any credit for that).

    so an effective living wage, then. including regional weighting.

    but (and here’s where i jump from left to right) we should not just (for example) double the minimum wage and expect employers to live with it. run this reform alongside a root-n-branch reform of corporate taxation (which is wholly unfit for purpose) and removal of employer national insurance (at least on below-average earners) and we can actually have more money paid directly to working people by their employers.. instead of routing much of it through state beaurocracy.

  15. Steve Trow

    RT @TheGreenParty: An article in @leftfootfwd by @DarrenJohnsonAM – "It’s time pay inequality became a priority" – //bit.ly/h0TMXp

  16. George McLean

    What practical mechanism can be implemented so that there is transparency between (at least) the lowest paid and highest paid in any organisation, public or private, (on a fill-time equivalence basis), and what redress would a worker have if, upon disclosure, it emerged that they were being paid at less than the appropriate rate given the agreed multiplier? For example, could they enforce a contract claim in the courts as in an equal pay case But weith a less convoluted procedure, please!)? Would the multiplier be the same nationally or could it be decided workplace-by-workplace?

  17. George McLean

    Apologies for my banana-fingered posting @3!

  18. Southwark Greens

    Green Lonson Assembly member Darren Johnson: "it's time pay inequality became a priority": //bit.ly/h0TMXp

  19. Darren Johnson

    In case u missed this. My article on pay equality debate & spirit level @leftfootforward //bit.ly/gasaP2 #unite #unison

  20. Darren Johnson

    Enjoyed hosting interesting seminar on spirit level & equality last night. Article @leftfootforward //bit.ly/eKW0x9

  21. Lewisham Green Party

    RT @DarrenJohnsonAM: In case u missed this. My article on pay equality debate & spirit level @leftfootforward //bit.ly/gasaP2 #uni …

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    […] It’s time pay inequality became a priority – Darren Johnson AM, February 16th […]

  23. The Spirit Level Film: Bringing the message of equality to the screen | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • It’s time pay inequality became a priority 16 Feb […]

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